Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Crossing a place nobody knows

In the morning I am awakened by Nina the reporter. I kind of thought they've forgotten about me but it seems not. I don't want to get up, I feel so comfortable in Ekatarina's appartment. I would like to know her more, to know Sakhalin more. But I have to go on. Nina took my timeline in consideration and organized to interview me in the morning. I kind of hoped for a translator: since I will  have my face appear on television, they can't expect me to talk in my bad russian.

"We didn't have time to take a translator to English," says Nina, "And your russian is about the same as our translator's anyway"

I am bit startled by that quote but I not that surprised. If it goes horribly wrong, I should be off that island before everybody hates me.

A television shooting can be loosely linked to reality at best. This is not the reporter's fault and especially not Nina's the media is like this by nature. We often say news reporting as unreliable, yet deep down, we trust it, we take infortmation from it, it affects our reality directly.
When
For example we see a clear demarcation line between a news report or documentary and a movie fiction. From what I came to see, that line is much more blurry if it even exists.
When King Geoffrey Baratheon sadistically slaughters people in Game of Thrones you do not hate Jack Gleeson, the actor who plays him. However, if a guy beats up another guy on a reality TV show or even a news report, you do not hate the character, you hate the person.
And you should because there is no such thing as a person on television. There are just characters and that we fail to realize.

A movie is a series of sequences acted by actors according to a script. A news report is also a series of acted moments according to a script. There are differences of course. A news report has freer script, more room for improvisation from both the actors and the reporter. Another big difference is that actors in a news report are not professional actors, they are normal people who act a part tightly based on themselves.
But they still remain actors, characters. They are not film doing things while they are doing them, they are re-enacting them at best.

But I have to be fair. It would not be true to say that a story reported by the news is plain fiction; it is linked to reality. Things may not have happened in the same order as shown on the screen and most of the implied things will be misleading but that is just how television is made.

It is no reason for scandal or for accusing reporters of doing a bad job. This is their job description and Nina is doing it great. The public should just be more informed of how television works. By the way, my videos report my journey about as accurately as television would. If you want a close measure of reality, read the blog.

I didn't know that television was like this when they first pointed the camera at me but even if I had known, I would still do the news report and gladly.
Attached to a bit of television fame was the hope of leaving the island and finally getting... almost home.

Nina was really passionate about the report. She came with the cameraman with a big black car. The cameraman was a bit scary but then again so was everyone else.

We did a series of unrelated shots which would later be reassembled. Most of the interview was shot above the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on an elevated wooden platformed which made everything look more impressive. Other shots were made of me walking and typing on my tablet.

I am being interviewed in the hills above the capital city of Sakhalin

My russian was a bit ridiculous but Nina was great with her guidance. She was much more into it than the cameraman and I felt a bit sorry that I couldn't do a better performance because of my poor russian skills.

Time was running out and at 11 AM I needed to get going. Nina wanted to film my last hitch from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk but in case it wouldn't work, the cameraman would take me with his car. Against their scepticism I got a ride in a few moments in a dirty but powerful jeep.

It is one thing I noticed here on Sakhalin, cars are strong and often covered with dirt, sometimes even in the capital city. That is because access roads to the most interesting oil sources are very bad and russians can afford big jeeps.

The road that we follow is surprisingly nice, it is paved and there is a lot of traffic... at least compared to Mongolia. I had already given up one of my plans to hitchhike to the northern top of the island and then take the hovercraft accross the very tiny strait of tatary (7.3km wide) because I thought no traffic would go there. I was wrong; on Sakhalin everybody is riding to every place to that island because of rich oil sources.

The jeep leaves me to the intersection, on a gas station. There are some police cars and I am a little bit scared. I am a little bit scared of everything on Sakhalin since I left Japan. I would like to stay a bit more with Ekatarina and Nina. But nobody cares about me and whenever they care, they are nice. It's just... I can't believe how remote a place I am... I can't believe I will be home soon. Now I am on Sakhalin, a post-apocalyptic island 9 time-zones away from home and soon I will be with Janela living a normal life. How can I hitchhike now as the toughest of the survivors when I am to be a computer engeneer tomorrow? It is as weird as when I first started. Only backwards. Perhaps it is so scary because I don't want anything bad to happen so close to the end.

The next car drives me a little bit further. It is a kind russian fisherman who likes my journey. Every experience is reassuring. He leaves me on another intersection but this one is quiet. The road is still good, there is no gas station and nothing there. I like quiet. I sit to contemplate the silent beauty around me. Nothing is wrong. I would like to stay there a while, in this state of wonder and just innocent happiness flowing at me directly from the surrounding nature. But the daydreaming must stop and I have to go. I am on a deadline. And I should be afraid of Bears. Bears, bears, bears, Sakhalin is full of bears and I don't want to encounter them. I have dome my share of one bear encounter in Japan and that was enough thank you very much.

I am picked up by two very young girls. They are 19 and 21. They are going to a nearby village and want to show me the whereabouts. They are so afraid of bears that they seldom exit the car. We get stuck in mud one time but the older one steers it like she were in an action movie.
I get a big bag full of Sakhalinian dried fish which are about the best dried fish I have tested in my life. Even better than whatever I could find in Japan.

We exit the car near a river with white rocks. Everything is green, quiet and beautiful. God will  I miss the east... Will I miss beautiful girls showing me around with a smile and giving me their number as opposed to their western counterparts with one finger on 911 as soon as you ask them for the time. Will I miss the hospitality, the air, the russian language. The thrill. Maybe I won't miss the thrill...

My guides for the brief time here
The girls tell me about life in Sakhalin, about the beauty, about bears. They have seen them many times, better find a good shelter for the night. They tell me to stay longer but I have to go on, to Kholmsk. They just briefly show me their village which is a really small pack of houses on the side of a dirt road. They leave me on the main way and sign farewell. With my bag of deliscious dried fish in my hand, I have just become a lot more interesting for the bear population which, by the way, is probably bigger than the human one.

The guy who drives me to Kholmsk is just great. He hears that I want to hitchhike a boat and he is determined to find the managment office.

We find it, it is not far from the Kholmsk harbour. A blond woman opens.
"I have an unusual request."
"Is there something as usual requests here on Sakhalin?"
I explain to her my situation and contrary to the Japanese, she is not the least bit surprised.
"I'll get you the chief"
This is the first time I meet someone who treats my journey as a casual matter and fully understands it at the same time.

The chief is a tall man in a suit with a little bit of gray hair. He doesn't speak much, he doesn't show a whole lot of emotions but his presence feels the room.
I explain my journey to him and hand him the map of my way.
"And I would like a free ticket to Vanino on your ferry, sir"
There is a moment of silence.
"Where did you learn Russian?"
"Here and there, on the way."
He pauses again and dives into deep thought. He then picks up his phone and dials the ticket office. No reply.
He looks at me with an inquisitive look. I regret a little bit that I entered this office, now he will call the FSB and I'll end up in jail.
"You know what, you have some courage to come to my office to ask for a ticket. And I appreciate a man who has balls. So here is your ticket. You know where the terminal is." He gives me an enveloppe with the price of the ticket in it. "This is the fastest way. Good luck."

And he drowns his gaze back in the computer.